2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

A lungi and a monogram of holes

Not everyone reports to work each day of the week. The sun does, and sundry others do. Mistake. Hold yourselves, trolls, wait a moment before you slay me on your keyboards and earn your daily pay. It wasn’t me, just cussed auto-correct. That should read The SundryOther, there’s only one that reports to work each day other than the sun. And that’s not a brag, Ramkasam no; it’s a fact notarised each day on the national register, previously known as television. There is the odd day the screen falls silent and bereft and you begin to fear the world’s going upside up again, but then there’s also the odd day of eclipse caused by cloud or lunatic concatenation. Doesn’t mean the sun isn’t there. So fear not that dull day on television, SundryOther is somewhere or other at work and the world remains assuredly upside down.

It just won’t do, not reporting to work each day, after decade upon disastrous decade of NothingHappened. Lights! Action! And please keep the cameras at ready. NewIndia has deep deficits to overcome. But Mahadeb won’t listen. Now and again, taken by bouts nothing short of anti-national, he vanishes. He jolts NewIndia. He triggers punishable lapses into NothingHappened. It’s unpardonable recklessness on his part to believe he’ll be gone from station and it will still be business as usual. Agreed, Mahadeb is not the only chaiwalaaround, but he is a chaiwala who still serves chai. Sundry others have stopped and moved on to serving entire nations. Now nations don’t come in bhaanrs; even if they did that would be a terribly impolite thing to try to achieve, you wouldn’t tell the nation ” bhaanr mein jaao“, would you?

That’s what Mahadeb refuses to understand. His companero of yore has come to embrace obligations so lofty and complex we can’t begin to comprehend. Try this some day that you feel bright and eager. Try Patel multiplied by Republican minus Russia multiplied by Caucasian divided by Dalit multiplied by the PLA multiplied by Arab minus Sunni minus Pakistani plus Balochistan to the variable power of GST divided twice over by the maximum speed of the BulletTrain and the minimum number of votes that could be cast in Kashmir in 2019, or as and when elections can credibly be held in that “war-like zone”. There. That’s how byzantine the wake-up log is for SundryOther each morning; and each morning he’s at it. Mahadeb leaves a far simpler situation vacant and renders things pitifully complicated. I mean the nation needs a chaiwala who still serves chai; chai is what fuels days. Nights we can rely on the ageing monk, or take ourselves in the blacken direction we are all headed – to the dogs. Tough to tell if Mahadeb heads that way too, for he never bothers with a forwarding address while gone.

He does worse. He leaves behind, flapping on a distended wire pulled across his ramshackle kiosk, his pinstriped lungi. The initiated can translate it into tactile tongue. It means “gone”; and when it continues there overnight, flopped on the wire and dry as wrinkles, it begins to exude more elaborate meanings – “Don’t know when I’m back, if that…” That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is his departure signage. A lungi? Nobody’s expecting a monogrammed pinstripe such as the one a certain personage once, only just that once, donned and swiftly shunned because it began to remind too many of the scary-tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The nation learned only later that the monogrammed pinstripe was a shoddy conspiracy commissioned by envious enemies and made to masquerade on the world stage as style statement. No sooner had the pernicious plot been bared than summary dismissal was pronounced on the the offending suit – off to the auctionhouse!

It found a fast and fervent buyer. When you’re Marilyn Monroe, or thereabouts of voltage, they’d quarrel to the gavel over your pettiest garment put through the most unmentionable disbursements of the body. Mahadeb, scrawny, myopic and fortunate if he takes up 56 inches from balding head to workman’s toe, is lower on voltage than he can sometimes be on attendance. It’s audacity redoubled to not report and plant instead a pinstripe monogrammed with holes.

Listen all to the manner born,
Claim it, even the wind wouldn’t do;
What’s pitted and torn,
It usually just blows through.

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